Calamity Jane

The real Calamity Jane Martha Jane Canary (1848-1903) was born in Princeton, Missouri. This hard drinking woman wore men's clothing, used their bawdy language, chewed tobacco and was handy with a gun. She traveled from Arizona through the Dakota territories during her rough life. At her death, the "White Devil of the Yellowstone" was remembered as a saint by the citizens of Deadwood, where she helped nurse the sick during a smallpox plague. She is buried near Wild Bill Hickock at Deadwood, South Dakota.

The following information about Calamity Jane is from a statement concerning her by Buffalo Bill:

"I do not know much about her early life. I guess nobody else does but herself. Her maiden name was Martha Canary, and she was born in Princeton, Mo., in 1852. A few years after this her mother died, and in 1862, the family moved to Virginia City, Nevada, which was then in the early days of the boom. An Indian uprising separated her from her father and brothers, and at the age of 10 she was thrown on the world to make her own way alone.

"She had friends and very positive opinions of the things that a girl could enjoy, and she soon gained a local reputation for daring horsemanship and skill as a rifle shot.

"Before she was 20 General Cook appointed her a scout under me. From that time on her life was pretty lively all the time. She had unlimited nerve and entered into the work with enthusiasm, doing good service on a number of occasions.

"Though she did not do a man's share of the heavy work, she has gone in places where old frontiersmen were unwilling to trust themselves, and her courage and good-fellowship made her popular with every man in the command.

"Her old nickname was received in 1872 in a peculiar way. She was at that time at Goose Creek Camp, S.D., where Captain Egan and a small body of men were stationed. The Indians were giving a lot of trouble, and there was much fighting.

"One day Captain Egan was surrounded by a large band. They were fighting desperately for their lives, but were being steadily, but surely slaughtered. Captain Egan was wounded and had fallen off his horse.

"In the midst of the fighting, it is said, the woman rode into the very center of the trouble, dismounted, lifted the captain in front of her on her saddle, and dashed out. They got through untouched, but every other man in the gallant company was slaughtered.

"When he recovered, Captain Egan laughingly spoke of Miss Canary as 'Calamity Jane,' and the name has clung to her ever since; so that while thousands have heard of her, very few have ever heard her real name. It was from her that Bret Harte took his famous character of Cherokee Sal in 'The Luck of Roaring Camp.'...

"In 1876, Jane, by a daring feat, saved the lives of six passengers on a stage coach traveling from Deadwood to Wild Birch, in the Black hills country.

"The stage was surrounded by Indians, and the driver, Jack McCall, was wounded by an arrow. Although the other six passengers were men, not one of them had nerve enough to take the ribbons. Seeing the situation, Jane mounted the driver's seat without a moment's hesitation and brought the stage safely and in good time to Wild Birch.

The Livingstone Enterprise, August 8, 1903, "Calamity is Dead", as quoted in "Calamity's in Town," p.32, by Bill and Doris Whithorn, 510 S. 8th St., Livingston, MT 59047.



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Original design and copyright Edith Frost, Used and Modified by Permission